Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations
April 2, 2012: Equitable Sharing of $500 Million Google Foreiture Approved
North Providence Police, East Providence Police, R.I. State Police, Department of the Attorney General, R.I. National Guard and four federal agencies to share proceeds forfeited by Google for accepting advertisements from online Canadian pharmacies that targeted U.S. consumers
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha and Kathleen Martin-Weis, Acting Director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations (FDA/OCI), announced today that the distribution of $500 million forfeited by the online search engine Google Inc., for allowing online Canadian pharmacies to place advertisements through its AdWords advertising program targeting consumers in the United States, resulting in the unlawful importation of controlled and non-controlled prescription drugs into the United States, has been approved.
Under the Federal Equitable Sharing Program, a majority of the $500 million forfeiture will be distributed to local and state law enforcement agencies in Rhode Island that participated in the investigation of Google, which resulted in the forfeiture. The distribution of the local and state share of the funds will begin after the recipients submit satisfactory spending plans for permissible law enforcement related expenditures. The expenditures will be subject to auditing and compliance reporting measures. The Equitable Sharing Program is governed by policies set forth in the Department of Justice’s Guide to Equitable Sharing for State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies: http://www.justice.gov/usao/ri/projects/esguidelines.pdf
Approximately $330 million will be shared among nine local, state and federal agencies, with the majority of the funds distributed to local and state law enforcement agencies. The equitable sharing of funds is determined based upon the time and resources each agency provided to the investigation.
Rhode Island Law Enforcement Equitable Sharing
East Providence PD 12% $60 million
North Providence PD 12% $60 million
RI Attorney General 12% $60 million
RI State Police 9% $45 million
RI National Guard 1% $ 5 million
Federal Law Enforcement Equitable Sharing
U.S. Postal Service 8% $40 million
IRS 7% $35 million
U.S. Secret Service 3% $15 million
ICE 2% $10 million
The remaining $170 million will be deposited into the Department of Justice’s Assets Forfeiture Fund. The Assets Forfeiture Fund is a national account used to pay any necessary expenses associated with forfeiture operations such as property seizure, detention, management, forfeiture, and disposal. The Fund may also be used to finance certain general investigative expenses.
United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha commented, “As I stated when we announced this forfeiture in August of last year, the most important result of our investigation into Google’s improper advertising practices concerning rogue Internet pharmacies was bringing an end to those practices. That said, and with that accomplished, I am extremely pleased that of the $500 million dollars forfeited by Google, $230 million will be distributed to five state and local agencies that contributed investigators to the legal team headed by my Office. It is my hope and expectation that these monies will be used for the benefit of all Rhode Islanders, by enhancing our overall ability to fight crime and keeping our residents safe.”
"We take great pride in the significance and impact of this investigation, which included an unprecedented asset forfeiture of $500 million dollars," said Kathleen Martin-Weis, Acting Director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigations. "These funds will provide much needed resources to our partner state and local law enforcement agencies in Rhode Island, to support future investigative efforts."
An investigation by the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Rhode Island and the FDA/OCI Rhode Island Task Force revealed that as early as 2003, Google was on notice that online Canadian pharmacies were advertising prescription drugs to Google users in the United States through Google’s AdWords advertising program. Although Google took steps to block pharmacies in countries other than Canada from advertising in the U.S. through AdWords, they continued to allow Canadian pharmacy advertisers to target consumers in the United States. Google was aware that U.S. consumers were making online purchases of prescription drugs from these Canadian online pharmacies, and that many of the pharmacies distributed prescription drugs, including controlled prescription drugs, based on online consultations rather than valid prescriptions from treating medical practitioners. Google was also on notice that many pharmacies accepting an online consultation rather than a prescription charged a premium for doing so because individuals seeking to obtain prescription drugs without a valid prescription were willing to pay higher prices for the drugs.
Further, from 2003 through 2009, Google provided customer support to some of these Canadian online pharmacy advertisers to assist them in placing and optimizing their AdWords advertisements, and in improving the effectiveness of their websites.
The investigation was led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew J. Reich and Richard B. Myrus of the District of Rhode Island, and FDA/OCI Special Agent Jason Simonian. The FDA/OCI Rhode Island Task Force is comprised of law enforcement agents and officers from FDA/OCI; Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations; ICE- Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Rhode Island State Police; Rhode Island National Guard; Rhode Island Department of the Attorney General; East Providence Police; and North Providence Police.
Corbin A. Weiss, Senior Counsel with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division’s Computer Crime & Intellectual Property Section, and Sarah Hawkins, FDA Senior Counsel, assisted the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney’s Office in this matter.